When 55-year-old Brenda McElroy visited Mirror Barber Shop in downtown Puyallup last month, it was to sort through her father’s belongings. Ray Colburn, owner of the shop, passed away on Jan. 13.
Among what McElroy found in the shop were thank-you notes from Colburn’s customers, some of which he’d known for around 50 years, after he opened the shop in the 1970s.
“We call (the shop) his happy place,” McElroy said. “He was very fortunate because he got to do what he loved.”
For McElroy, the notes were proof of her father’s love for his work and the strong relationships he cultivated because of it.
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“You can tell he really liked people,” McElroy said. “He had a very loyal customer base.”
Born in 1933, Colburn was raised in Puyallup and attended Puyallup High School. Upon graduating in 1952, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. When he separated from the service, he went to vocational school and began working as a barber.
“He tried his hand at other things,” said McElroy, adding that Colburn drove a taxi and worked for companies to photograph newborn babies at hospitals. “He always came back to being a barber. He liked interacting with people, cutting people’s hair, making it look good.”
He tried his hand at other things. He always came back to being a barber. He liked interacting with people, cutting people’s hair, making it look good.
Brenda McElroy, Colburn’s daughter
Colburn worked at Mirror Barber Shop before taking over ownership in the mid-70s, said McElroy. As a kid, McElroy remembers visiting the shop often while her father worked.
“I used to go in and sit in the chairs if there weren’t any customers,” she said. “He’d have the radio on, listening to a Mariners game or a Huskies game.”
As a member of the downtown business community in Puyallup, Colburn was involved in community events, including the Washington State Fair, where he worked as a security guard. His gave out candy with other businesses on Halloween, and would always watch the Daffodil Parade when it was in town.
“He was very active in the community,” McElroy said.
Colburn was also involved with the Barber Program at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, where he was a member on the advisory board.
“He was always there to help with the students,” said Jeff Olson, instructor at Bates College. “At the end of every quarter we have an exam, and the students have to demonstrate knowledge of all the things we do in the industry. Ray would help administer that exam.”
He was always there to help with the students. At the end of every quarter we have an exam, and the students have to demonstrate knowledge of all the things we do in the industry. Ray would help administer that exam.
Jeff Olson, instructor at Bates Technical College
“He took a lot of pride in that — helping the next generation,” McElroy added.
Melissa Bellinger, owner of Maplewood Barber Shop in Puyallup, went to work for Colburn at Mirror Barber Shop after graduating from Bates College in 1997. She remembered him often sharing stories about his time in the Army.
“He brought in pictures from when he was in the service,” Bellinger said. “He would share his stories. He was a kind man.”
In 2003, Colburn underwent heart surgery, and had to reduce his community activities.
“We almost lost him then,” his daughter remembered.
In December 2016, Colburn’s sister-in-law passed away, and McElroy noticed the death affected Colburn, whose mother died young and was raised by his brother and sister, who were both 10 years older.
“It was the last connection he had to his brother and sister,” McElroy said.
Colburn took more time to rest until he passed away in January from heart failure, McElroy said. No decision has been made on the future of the shop, she added.
One of the things I've noticed when we’re (at the shop) is how many stores have changed and that this shop has been the only constant on that street.
“One of the things I’ve noticed when we’re (at the shop) is how many stores have changed and that this shop has been the only constant on that street,” McElroy said.
Colburn is survived by his wife, Jean (78), and his three daughters: McElroy, April Joya, 50, and Judi Rodriguez, 53. His family mourns and remembers Colburn as a father, businessman and active member of the community.
“We couldn’t go anywhere where we didn’t run into someone he knew. It was amazing,” she said. “He just loved what he did and loved his customers. Everyone that we meet tell me how fond they were of him.”